"It is heart-warming," said Israeli Consul General in New Delhi Irit Shneor with unabashed pride. "In the heart of the destruction in the Ladakh region, among the demolished cabins, in the somber atmosphere, Israeli trekkers are volunteering around the clock, always with a smile on their lips, giving their all to help the refugees from the disaster area left bruised and wounded, without anything, without shelter."
Official sources in India said on Wednesday that the official death toll claimed by the floods last week in the mountainous Ladakh region reached 185, with some 400 others still missing. Another thousand people lost all of their belongings, left without a roof over their heads. They were transferred to government emergency shelters after the massive amounts of water destroyed everything in its path, including road, electricity, and communication infrastructures.
Floods in Ladakh. 'This is how we were brought up' (Photo: AP)
Irit Shneor returned Wednesday to New Delhi from the city of Leh, the capital of the Ladakh region, after spending two days commanding the rescue operation of 600 Israeli backpackers trapped by the floods.
"Indian aid was amazing," said Shneor. "Their air force sent helicopters to evacuate the backpackers who were in the middle of a trek, and the army sent trucks to transfer Israelis to bases where they were provided food and medication."
After spending two days in the devastated city, Shneor can tell of the expansive destruction. "It's just heaps of rubble," she said. "Some of the buildings were made out of mud and had no chance of surviving the flooding of the river and the landslides. Now everything is destroyed, with mountains of mud, earth, rocks, and boulders."
The embassy arranged flights to take Israelis from the disaster zone to New Delhi. Shneor was surprised when 200 Israelis decided not to board the flights, choosing instead to stay behind and help with the rehabilitation and relief efforts.
"It is simply heart-warming," said Shneor. "Some of the Israelis who served as combat medics in the military volunteered at an improvised hospital set up in the city. Some helped lift boulders and evacuate the rubble from the streets. Israelis make up half of all the foreign volunteers, which is truly impressive."
The phenomenon of such Israeli good will is not only taking root in physical aid, according to Shneor.
"I was very moved to see that some of the Israelis donated money to the locals and even gave them their clothing," she said. "People go on a trip with a limited amount of clothing. Despite this, they reached into their backpacks and donated their clothes, left with the bare minimum needed. I spoke with a girl who said that all she had left were the clothes she was wearing. She saw the distress people were in and decided to donate. She said they were very happy and thanked her with glistening eyes. She won't forget this for her whole life."
Matan Golan, 28, from Jerusalem, who volunteered in the makeshift hospital set up in Leh, recounted how the initiative came about.
"It was a spontaneous move organized by a number of Israeli travelers who connected with other tourists and set up the field hospital," he told Indian television. "I think everyone would have done what we did. This is how we were raised. I don't think anyone else who had come here and seen the disaster would have said to himself, 'I'm not connect to this,' and gone home."
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